With the culmination of both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) basketball games this December, enthusiasts can now turn their attention to the 44th season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Before the new campaign gets going, the league will first hold the annual PBA Draft where aspiring Filipinos try their luck in entering the most prestigious professional league in the country.
The PBA Draft was scheduled on December 16, with the Columbian Dyip and the Blackwater Elite poised to pick first and second overall, respectively, out of 12 teams. Current college seniors CJ Perez of the LPU Pirates, Robert Bolick of the SBU Red Lions, and Bong Quinto of the CSJL Knights will surely compete for the top two spots, while the seniors who graduated last year such as Abu Tratter of the DLSU Green Archers, Vince Tolentino of the ADMU Blue Eagles, and J-jay Alejandro of the NU Bulldogs will look to complete the cast for the first round draftees.
Looking closely at what these six players have in common, they have all maximized their collegiate careers and have played a few games in the PBA Developmental-League (PBA D-League) before applying for the PBA Draft. These are two major rules that the league has imposed on the applicants, regardless if the player is a local or a Filipino-Foreigner.
The rules for the local players basically states that if the applicant is 21 years old at the day of the draft, has played seven games in the PBA D-League, and stands at least 5’6, then he is eligible for the draft. These three rules are easy to understand, but I believe the added guidelines concerning the age of the local applicants is puzzling; it seems redundant and contradicting. It simply says that the applicant must finish college first regardless of your age, but it also declares that an applicant is eligible if he is four years removed from his high school graduation.
On the other hand, the rules for the Filipino-Foreigners are much stricter as the league requires them to provide documents to prove that they are Filipino citizens and must play in the two conferences of the PBA D-League. It also requires them to play professional basketball outside the said league before applying for the draft. The guidelines for the Filipino-Foreigners is complicated as they have to go through a lot before becoming eligible for the PBA Draft.
I suppose that abolishing these current rules and waving off the two separate guidelines for the locals and Filipino-Foreigners would be better as it would avoid confusion for both the fans and applicants.
If I can, I would propose two new rules instead. First, the applicant must at least be a high school graduate, and second, should be at least 19 years old. This would somehow mirror the simple draft rules of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and would give the players the freedom in choosing the path that they want to take. They should be able to decide for themselves if they want to take the jump to the professional league right after high school, or if they want to at least spend a year in the collegiate scene, or to complete their studies first. Of course, for every issue, there will always be pros and cons.
First, let’s talk about the advantages of applying for the PBA Draft at an early age. Athletes won’t have to go through college and spend four years trying to balance their time on studies and basketball. Giving this option to athletes will allow them to solely focus on the sport without meeting a certain grade minimum.
Staying in the collegiate scene for at least four years might also wear them out quickly and possibly lessen the time they have playing professionally. The minutes played and injuries sustained in the amateur level will definitely take a toll in their body and may force them to retire early. If a prospect is already playing at a high level even before finishing college, it will be better for him to apply early as his draft stock is at peak level.
Additionally, being in the professional league will give a player plenty of exposure and playing opportunities. Training alongside battle-tested PBA veterans and absorbing every advice from the coaching staff in team practices will absolutely help them in their growth as a player. In terms of playing opportunities, the PBA has three conferences in one season, with one conference almost equivalent to one collegiate season.
The other benefit that I will tackle is the most obvious and most important for some. Players who will forego playing collegiate basketball would have the opportunity to start making a living right away as they would receive monthly payment from the team who drafted them while doing something they love.
In stark contrast, those who will opt to play professionally without finishing their studies might find it hard to look for career alternatives after their playing career. Most employers today hire people with a college degree and it would be difficult to land a job with only a high school diploma. Yes, a retired player can still be part of a basketball team and earn money by being a coach, scout, or be in the management spectrum. But what if these opportunities never come by? It is always good to have a contingency plan just in case anything happens unexpectedly.
Further, players who want to make the leap to the professional level as soon as possible may want to gauge the interest of the PBA teams first. A few teams might hesitate in using their valuable draft pick to select raw and relatively inexperienced players. The readiness of the young players, both mentally and physically, will definitely have a factor in the draft process.
In the end, I think that the PBA should slowly make their draft eligibility more flexible in the future and be open to athletes who want to make the early leap to the professional league. This would greatly benefit those individuals who see basketball as a profession because it allows them to reach their dream as soon as possible.
The risk in forgoing college education is high, but the reward would be significantly high as well. These athletes would immediately earn money while doing what they love and would get the best training and competition available.
I believe that there is nothing wrong in choosing basketball as a career, but if everything goes down badly, it is never wrong to consider going back to school again and attain a degree.